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SBI Steps in to Help Highway Patrol Remove Trouble From Its Ranks

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RALEIGH — TheHighway Patrolis taking major steps to remove trouble from the ranks. A month after the top trooper retired after accusations he accepted gifts, one of the Patrol's interim leaders has also come under fire.

The State Bureau of Investigation is stepping in to answer some questions. The past three Highway Patrol commanders have resigned amid revelations they misused their office.

Now, the Highway Patrol wants to ensure that an agency that depends on the public trust can live up to it.

"I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead. I know it's many, but I look forward to it,." said Col. E.W. Horton, former Highway Patrol commander.

Horton's career hit the brakes in December when he retired amid allegations he accepted free building materials for his house.

Now, Lt. Col. Coy Blackman, one of two interim commanders, has admitted that aDOTboard member gave him free use of a car for two years.

"It's my understanding that there was use of a car, a gentlemen's agreement, a business agreement, and the sale was never transacted," said Sgt. Jeff Winstead.

Blackman returned the car to its owner and remains a candidate for the top trooper's job.

Trouble in the patrol dates back to 1995 with Col. Robert Barefoot.

Barefoot took early retirement after he admitted to knowing a Garner man who headed a stolen goods ring.

For the first time, the SBI will look for potential ethics issues among the six candidates for commander.

"The governor has asked the SBI to run background checks on all of the candidates for the position of patrol commander, and that's what they're doing now, and they're working within a time frame to hopefully have their mission accomplished by the 22nd," said Winstead.

Governor Hunt plans to have a new commander in place before thelegislatureconvenes on Jan. 27, so that he can devote his full attention to his legislative agenda.


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